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Once, I experienced a massive outbreak of what was assumed to be food poisoning, though it was never officially diagnosed. The symptoms were unmistakable: stomach pain and nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and the sense that my body was in “eruption mode.”
The atmosphere was unpleasant, to say the least, and made me appreciate the safety precautions that food establishments, industries and workers are asked to carefully observe. It also made me appreciate the multiple opportunities for contamination, infection or spoilage of foods that occur somewhere along the chain between harvest/production and consumption.
Let’s take cantaloupe, for example. From the moment the cantaloupe seed is planted, its caretaker must ensure that it is grown with clean water and protected from harmful chemicals or waste products. Once the cantaloupe has grown and been harvested, it must be transported quickly, at the right temperatures, in the right packaging, with the right fellow cargo.
If its skin is bruised too badly, the fruit will become more susceptible to contamination. If it is distributed too slowly, it is at risk for spoilage. If it is handled by workers who are infected (or who haven’t washed their hands post-bathroom break), the fruit may also transport illness to its consumer.
Finally, if it is stored in unsuitable conditions -- either by a vendor or by the eventual eaters -- the cantaloupe is also vulnerable to becoming a carrier of foodborne illness (aka the simultaneous explosions from multiple orifices that I witnessed above). And THAT doesn’t even get in to issues of manufacturing that so many processed and packaged foods require.
It is no wonder the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration keep such a tight watch on the things we eat! And it is no surprise that outbreaks are somewhat of a frequent occurrence. But why is Food Safety one of the “Winnable Battles” of Public Health?
To begin, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is looking at improving our nation’s knowledge of foodborne illness incidence, trends and causes.